Cowboy Dances

A collection of Traditional Western Square Dances By Lloyd Shaw

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If they are a group who are interested in terminology and origins, he may want to discuss this familiar old word of the Western dance caller. It has been suggested that it comes from the French phrase "a-la-main" or "on-the~ hand" and that "allemande left" is simply a corruption of "on-the-left-hand." But though it sounds reasonable enough, I doubt if there is a drop of French blood in the word. Nor do I think it is a corrupted form of the Swiss "allewander," their term for a "right and left" derived from the root "to wind." The spelling clearly indicates German. And we find that there was a famous old dance called the "Alle­mande" or "German," which was full of turns, the gentle­man forever taking the lady's hand and turning around her. And I believe that "allemande left" simply means do a left turn around your lady as they used to do in the old "alle­mande."
If your dancers are enjoying your explanatory talk while they catch their breath, it may interest some of them to know that the "right and left" which is part of this figure is a very ancient step indeed. Three or four hundred years ago it was known through Europe as the chaine anglaise, or the English chain. And even earlier in England it was called the "Hey"—the "shepherds' hey" that the earliest poets wrote about. This same interweaving chain survives in the "Grand right and left" of a Western cow camp. Shepherds' hey!
The caller will explain that the complete call is usually given in some such form as:
Allemande left with your left hand,
Then right hand to partner and right and left grand,
but that until they get more used to the call and the idea he will use a simpler form which goes:
Swing your left hand lady with your left hand, Then right hand to partner and right and left grand.
In this maneuver of the allemande each gentleman faces left, instead of turning right to face his partner, and each lady faces right, so that the gentlemen stand facing their left-hand ladies. They take left hands and walk once around each other and back to their own positions. This leaves them now facing their partners, whom they take with their right hands and march past them in the old familiar Grand

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